Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph at the finish line of a competition at Madison Square Garden (1961 )

Wilma Rudolph ( Wilma Rudolph Glodean; born June 23, 1940 in Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee, † November 12, 1994 in Brentwood, Tennessee) was an American track and field athlete and Olympic champion. Their performances earned her the name "Black Gazelle" one.


Wilma grew up in a family with seven children and eleven half-siblings. Soon after her birth, the family moved to the neighboring town of Clarksville. In her childhood, Wilma suffered a number of serious diseases. A polio continued her left leg out of action, and only after years of physical therapy and specific massages she was able to walk without aids. From eleven to she could finally play basketball with her brothers. Soon they achieved great success at the high school in this sport. Ed Temple, a professor at Tennessee State University and athletics coach of the local college teams, they discovered in 1955 as a referee at a basketball match, recognized her talent and gave her an athletic scholarship at his university.

Sporting career

The following year she qualified for the Olympic Summer Games 1956 in Melbourne, where she won bronze in the 4 x 100 - meter relay. After a pregnant pause In 1958 she was one of the world's best sprinters and set two world records in 1960: 22.9 seconds over 200 meters, it improved the old mark by 0.3 s; in the 100 -meter run, it achieved 11.3 seconds and leveled so that the time of Shirley Strickland de la Hunty and Wera Krepkina.

At the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, she won in all three short -distance events: In the individual events 100 and 200 m they won in all races with at least 0.3 seconds ahead; However, the mythical time of 11.0 seconds in the 100 -meter final could not be counted as a world record because of too strong tailwind. In the 4 × 100 m relay she ran along with Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams and Barbara Jones in the lead a world record ( 44.4 seconds ); in the final secured Rudolph the anchor leg, the gold before the German relay, at the outset of the final straight on a par.

This Wilma Rudolph was finally a star. When the governor of their home country Buford Ellington wanted to organize a parade to celebrate their homecoming, Rudolph agreed only when racial segregation was abolished for this; the parade and the subsequent banquet were the first celebrations in Clarksville, where the differences between black and white were repealed. Also helped to make it a model of the U.S. civil rights movement.

On August 19, 1961, she presented over 100 m with 11.2 seconds in Stuttgart another world record.

Another career

In 1961 she married William Ward; the marriage lasted only briefly. Her last race she contested the beginning of 1963; an appendectomy and a pregnancy caused her shortly thereafter to end their athletic career. After they had completed their studies this year, she was an elementary school teacher and basketball and track coach, and shortly after the formal divorce in 1963 she married the father of her newborn child, her childhood friend and basketball player Robert Eldridge, from which it in 1958 to a daughter had brought. From the marriage, which ended in divorce in 1980, two more children were born.

She launched various projects to bring the urban youth from the street to sport, and wrote an autobiography that was filmed. In 1981, she founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to support black student athletes and athletes. Your probably the most prominent protégé was Florence Griffith Joyner, who also managed the feat of winning three gold medals at the Olympic Games.

On November 12, 1994 Wilma Rudolph died of a brain tumor in Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville.


1960 and 1961 they were each honored with Sportsman of the Year Award from the Associated Press.

In 1974 she was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame ( the first black athlete ).

In 1997, Governor Don Sundquist from 23 June to Wilma Rudolph Day.

The comprehensive school in Berlin- Zehlendorf in 2000 her renamed in honor Wilma Rudolph in high school.


  • Martin Ralbovsky: Wilma. The story of Wilma Rudolph. Signet, 1977, ISBN 0451077482
  • Wilma Rudolph on track. Walker Books, 1980, ISBN 067195475X


  • Bud Greenspan (Director and writer): Wilma. USA 1977